3 North Metro Firefighters get international swiftwater rescue award for saving drivers during flood

NORTHGLENN, Colo. - Three firefighters threatened with a potential lawsuit from a September flood rescue have been honored with an International award.

North Metro firefighters, Lt. Rob Williams, Engineer John Cook and Bryan Gaines just returned from New Jersey where they were given the 2014 Higgins & Langley Memorial Award for Swiftwater Rescue.

The award is internationally recognized for excellence in swiftwater and flood rescue.

"We certainly don't look for glory, but it was just nice to be recognized," said Gaines.

"There were fire departments from all over the world. Some from Australia, New Zealand, Chicago Fire, a couple of Virginia fire departments were there," said Cook.

The North Metro Firefighters were just some of the first responders to help drivers that found themselves in Rock Creek when Dillon Road collapsed near Highway 287 in Lafayette.

The heavy rains on the first night of the September floods washed away the road.

Cook and Gaines were just nearing the end of their 48-hour shift.

"Two hours away from going home," said Gaines. "We don't go into it looking for -- it's not, 'Wow, I might get a medal for doing this.' It's not that. You're concerned about the victims, first and foremost."

Gaines was in a rescue boat and helped pull one driver from their vehicle which was wedged just beneath an exposed gas line.

"There were a lot of hazards; the water was rushing, it was dark, that gas line was there, you don't typically see those type of rescues often," said Gaines. "We didn't know how much damage was done to that gas line, so if there was a leak and if there was a spark in the truck or some of the other rescue vehicles, that could have ignited."

"There were hundreds of those type of rescues going on throughout that whole week that weren't publicized or weren't televised and we just happened to be the ones that got caught on tape," said Cook.

7NEWS was there when the firefighters pulled Roy Ortiz out of his SUV. Ortiz was upside down in his SUV for two hours before being rescued.

"Being able to at the right place at the right time, and it just so happened it's caught on camera, it was definitely a moment in my career, in my life that I will never forget," said Cook.

"So you don't go out every day saying, 'This is the rescue that's going to get me that award?'" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"No, not at all. Absolutely not. I mean, I was very surprised to see it," said Gaines, as Cook just laughed.

"Do you think what you were doing when you were rescuing these people was extraordinary?" asked Zelinger.

"I feel like we were just doing our job. I mean, at that point in time, training kicks in," said Cook. "It's no different than the training we put into structural firefighting or collapse rescue."

In March, before the award was announced, Ortiz filed an intent to sue the county and rescuers, for not having the road blocked off and for rescuers potentially missing him when they first arrived on scene.

"If we were constantly worried about litigation we couldn't do this job," said Gaines.

"Does getting an award like this provide any extra validation that says, 'That's nonsense?'" asked Zelinger.

"No, I don't believe so. You don't go into it expecting an award and you certainly don't come out of it trying to prove anything to anybody about, 'Hey, look what I got.' It's not about that at all. We were just happy that everyone got out alive. That was our goal," said Gaines.

"The fact that all three of the drivers got out alive, you couldn't hope for a better outcome than that," said Cook.

On Friday afternoon, 7NEWS contacted the attorney for Ortiz. A woman who answered the phone said that he would not be answering any more questions about the intent to sue.

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